VSTE 2016: PD Here, There, & Everywhere

One of my goals during VSTE was to see how other districts implemented professional development in their own districts. There were a few different sessions focused around professional development and each one seemed to be different. The one thing I quickly learned: No one has the “best” solution for professional development. The programs that are successful only reach a small percentage of a district’s staff. This is because they aren’t mandatory and seek the ones who are self-guided to learn.

I find professional development to be key to a teacher’s continued growth, but find it frustrating to see that so many folks opt to only do it when it’s made mandatory or when they need the points/hours for credit or licensure renewal. We have a failure to model for our students what continued growth and learning looks like. As a teacher, our landscape changes constantly, and so do the tools that we have to use to navigate the landscape. Our students, too, change over time, and they need to acquire the ways of using new tools and yet unknown tools in order to be successful in our landscape. The teacher that fails to adopt and flex with the changing landscape essentially has doomed the students to fail behind.

Drastic? Maybe a little. However, our students cannot learn in the same types of classroom that we did. That was a different time, with different tools and skills needed. Things have evolved and changed, and we need to prepare our students to evolve along with them. It becomes easier when we, the educators, have to find our own ways to evolve because then we pick up on some of the struggles that the students may have.

There were 3 sessions at VSTE that I attended on professional development. One was done by Chesterfield County, one by Spotsylvania County, and another by Blue Ridge Technology Center. Each of these districts did something different with their staff. Each district was successful with a small percentage of their staff. Each district did what worked best for their staff and PD leaders. Each district is hoping to bring more staff into the fold with each passing year. Let’s dive in to how each district tackles PD. In a later blog post, I’ll discuss my plan to create a technology cohort based on the different types of professional development that I’ve researched.

The first session I attended was Chesterfield’s. This actually aligned nicely with the idea I was toying with for a technology cohort at the time based on other research, so I found it very informational. Chesterfield has created what they have dubbed the LITE Cohort. Teachers involved in this cohort had to submit an application to be accepted. Since this is the first year of the cohort, it is only being implemented in about 1/3 of the district buildings. The steps of the cohort are tied to ISTE standards.

Once in the cohort, teachers develop a mission statement for themselves that they will work on during the year. These missions are based on ISTE modules. Teachers then work on research, with the assistance of ITRTs as necessary. From there they implement and reflect and continue forward. ITRTs meet with them once a month. There is also a Google Classroom component where teachers get involved in discussion at least 3 times a year and use it to support other cohort members. Teachers will collect all of their documentation in a portfolio. How they create the portfolio is up to them, but they must follow a template to make sure the required pieces are in there. Finally there are a few big meetings that are done face to face. One is the launch, and the other two are end of semester meetings.

One of the things I loved is that the Chesterfield crew provided plenty of extra materials and links to help those in attendance plan and design their own cohort. I’m pretty sure I’ll be calling on them again in the future!

The next session I attended was Spotsylvania’s session on professional development. Their system was a bit different. Instead of doing a cohort, they had worked to create a resource where teachers could look up the type of tool or professional development that they were interested in and then find a video to watch about said tool.

This particular district started with Digital Learning Day and doing live video feeds. They had some snags, such as weather that caused a delay the day of their live video. In addition to their team of ITRTs, they had some teachers that also helped present on different topics. After this, they started archiving all of their videos and developing a center for all of their video resources.

It works well for them, but they also have a large team of ITRTs compared to our 3. I also didn’t like that staff could easily fill out that they’d watch the videos for PD credit, but that there was no way to authenticate it. With what I want to design, I want there to be more than just sit and and get. I want them to implement and reflect. I’m very glad it works well for their district though, and I at least learned something I didn’t want to do.

The final session on professional development that I attended was presented by Blue Ridge Technology Center. They had a slightly different take on how they presented professional development to their staff. They ended up creating a special room for professional development that was geared for teachers ready to learn. It was toted as a place where teachers would come to learn, discover, and fail in a safe space.

I had never really seen a place dedicated to professional development before, so it was interesting to see what they did to make sure it was easy for teachers to have a space set aside. Not something we would do in our district, nor would it increase professional development, but a nice idea nonetheless.

In the end, I left with ideas of what I did and did not want to do. As I mentioned above, Chesterfield’s meshed nicely with another idea I’d found from the Olwein district in Iowa. I decided to mesh and combine both ideas together to develop something for Fluvanna County for fall 2017. I will be spending a good bit of time on hashing everything out and making sure it’s ready to go by then.

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